Saturday, 23 July 2005

Apparently being an award-winning romantic novelist is a mixed blessing. Jojo Moyes infamously started her acceptance speech for the Romantic Novelists' Association 2004 Romantic Novel of the Year award with a denial that she wrote romantic novels at all. Not that her conscience was sufficiently pricked that she was willing to turn down the £10,000 that went with the award.

Now, more than a year on, it looks like she still hasn't got over it. She has been talking to The Australian about her new book, The Ship of Brides, which can escape the romantic ghetto by flashing its credentials as a historical novel.
When critics compared her with Maeve Binchy, Joanne Harris and Rosamund Pilcher, she was flattered. When they made her Romantic Novelist of the Year in 2004, she was perplexed. "I just thought I wrote big books with love stories in them," she says. "I guess I was guilty of assuming they were all like Mills & Boon.
OK, so Mills & Boon don't publish "big books with love stories in them". Instead they publish little books with love stories in them, and those, it seems to me, are somewhat harder to write. Blaise Pascal famously apologised for a letter that was longer than usual, because he had not had time to make it shorter.
I was grateful to get it, of course.
That would be the £10,000, then.
I think the RNA [Romantic Novelists Association] is being quite clever now; they even put Andrea Levy on this year's short list."
Well, while that was good publicity for the RNA there are a lot of people who felt that it shouldn't have been shortlisted because, unlike Moyes' Foreign Fruit it wasn't really a romantic novel. In fact the RNA are changing the process by which they come up with a shortlist in order to ensure that the books considered by the judges really are the best romantic novels of the year, and not just a selection of "literary lite" novels with some sort of love story tucked in somewhere.

Not that I am entirely out of sympathy with Jojo Moyes (but that is for another piece). I do however think that while our cricket team are taking on the Australians in a crucial battle for the Ashes, the last thing that the readers of The Australians need is a whingeing pom.


Jenny Haddon said...

I do sympathise with your irritation, really I do Stephen.

There was a point when the shortest moment in time was between the Romantic Novel of the Year shortlist being announced and a couple of the listed authors popping up on their local media to say, "Of course, I don't wraite romantic novels."

Didn't stop them trousering the cheque if they won. (At one point I suggested a Malvolio Award for the most outrageous, "You are lesser things. I am not of your element." Other RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) members were nicer than me and vetoed it.)

But two points on the interview with Jo Jo Moyes:

1 alas, the RNA hasn't the power to be as clever as Moyes suggests. The Award is very carefully organised to make sure that RNA members aren’t involved in the judging at any stage. We set the criteria; we administer it; we organise the Savoy bash; but as far as short lists are concerned, we are receivers of our readers’ judgements.

2 Let's not fall into the trap of demonising fellow writers.

Andrea Levy, already winner of the Orange and he Whitbread prizes for "Small World", was an all round Good Egg about our award - cheerful and friendly at the short list party, gracious at the award ceremony; exemplary in fact. All this, notwithstanding the fact that the media made at least as much fuss that her book lost as that Katherine Davies' book won - which must have been seriously irritating, to say the least.

AND Jo Jo Moyes has a point about broadsheet editors' feelings about any novel that may be called romantic.

At the recent Romantic Novelists' Association conference, it was said by persons well placed in publishing that the Richard & Judy effect was blurring "the false distinction between literary and commercial fiction". Here's hoping!

Jenny (er ... currently chair of the RNA)

Stephen said...

Jojo Moyes' point about broadsheet editors is indeed entirely valid, and one that I will be commenting on (constructively) soonish.

I also should point out in the interests of full disclosure that I haven't actually read Foreign Fruit, and cannot say quite how romantic - or how good - it is.

But there is still a fundamental issue here. The RNA exists to enhance and promote romantic fiction, and the major award is part of achieving that aim. I think that that any writer who accepts the award should not just take the money and run. Instead of moaning that the term "romantic" is hurting their prospects of reviews in the broadsheet press they should be arguing that they are good writers, and that editors who refuse to review their books are doing their own readers a disservice.

If someone persuades me that Jojo Moyes is in fact making just that sort of argument, but is failing to get through, then I would unreservedly withdraw my tirade.

By the way, that's a neat example of how to do Chatham House Rules at the end there, Jenny.

Anonymous said...

I've come a bit late to this blog, having spent some of last week discussing this with Anne Weale. But having read this, and your post below, I just wanted to say, as I did to her, that I use "RNA winner" on all my publicity, and my website - not the actions of someone embarrassed to win the award (and I understand that this does apply to some authors).
I was SO pleased, and still am, and I think the RNA is doing sterling work in promoting commercial fiction.

But I was being entirely honest (perhaps not a good thing with the press) in saying I did not initially think my book was a romantic book. The RNA put that quote out in their pre-publicity for the award - so I didn't imagine for a minute that I had offended anyone.
I do believe that people make assumptions about quality, rightly or wrongly, when the word "romance" is mentioned in the same breath as the word "novel". That is what I was fearful of - and that is why I thought they were being clever including Andrea Levy - a novelist who had already been shortlisted on lots of literary shortlists. I thought it might make people think again about romantic fiction. My friends who are derided as authors of "chick-lit" suffer the same. Personally, I would rather people just read the story and didn't categorise.

As for my lack of "serious" reviews, it only really rankles as I worked for a broadsheet newspaper for ten years (and often for the books editor)...

Best wishes - and vowing not to do any more interviews - Jojo "Whingeing Pom" Moyes

Lawrance Fernandes said...

There is always tomorrow, a new day to come....Wish you luck.

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